Open Thread: Yes, Israel's Culture Explains Its Prosperity and Success

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is being reamed by liberals in the media for a supposed gaffe in stating that Israel is much more successful economically than territories under Palestinian control because of its "culture."

Rich Lowry explains how that is perfectly true in a piece at National Review Online today. The long and short of it is that Western classically liberal values like the rule of law, representative democracy, religious tolerance/diversity, free speech and secure property rights are hallmarks of Israel's civil society that are woefully lacking in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip:


The author Lawrence Harrison wrote a book called The Central Liberal Truth on the interplay of culture and development. In it, he notes the difference between the basket case of Haiti and relatively well-governed, well-off Barbados. Both are populated by the descendants of slaves from West Africa. Both were European sugar colonies. The difference is that Haiti won its independence from France early in the 19th century, while Barbados steadily absorbed British values and institutions until it eventually gained its independence in 1966.

Israel is part of the culture of the West, as can be seen in its commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and individual achievement. Romney adviser Dan Senor and Saul Singer co-wrote a book on Israeli entrepreneurship called Start-up Nation. “It is a story,” they write, “not just of talent but of tenacity, of insatiable questioning of authority, of determined informality, combined with a unique attitude toward failure, teamwork, mission, risk, and cross-disciplinary creativity.” In short, it is a story of a culture of entrepreneurship.

Yes, the Palestinians are hobbled by Israeli roadblocks and the like. But they are crippled by the fact that they live in an illiberal society obsessed with perpetuating the conflict with Israel over almost all else. Lawrence Harrison cites many examples of countries that have undergone cultural change — from South Korea to Ireland — under farsighted leadership and the pressure of events. Change is particularly difficult, though, when the need for it is “brought home by the strengths of other cultures that have achieved higher levels of progress.”

In Jerusalem, Romney only said what was obvious. Meaningful change won’t come for the Palestinians until they admit it.

Of course, to a lesser degree, we can see the difference in economic recovery and economic prospects here in the U.S. differing by socio-political cultural differences. Take two mid-sized mid-Atlantic states that have wildly different political cultures and political approaches to taxes, spending and regulation: Virginia and Maryland.

The former has a healthy two-party system and politically it is center-right, with a governor and House of Delegates firmly opposed to tax hikes. Lo and behold, Virginia is once again posting a budget surplus, in part because of increased corporate and sales tax revenue -- which means corporate profits and retail sales are on the rebound in the Old Dominion.

Virginia's neighbor to the north, Maryland, has a liberal Democratic state government and has pursued in recent years tax hikes and spending increases. The state's governor, Martin O'Malley, has toyed with the idea of slapping the states 6 percent sales tax on gasoline. Maryland has yet to close its budget deficit and O'Malley is hoping that increasing legal gambling will be the magic elixir that solves the state's economic woes.

Political culture has a huge role in economic vitality, and that's as true in Bethlehem, Maryland, as it is in Bethlehem, West Bank, no matter how much the media wish that weren't the case.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters